Fun with Phyllo

Athens Phyllo’s “think outside the box” contest was fun; in addition to the strudel contest, they held a baklava contest and a spanakopita contest too. Below are my entries from each–the twist on baklava recipe won, and the winners on the spanakopita contest will be notified soon.

Cashew-Turtle-Baklava

The “twist” on baklava resulted in cashew “turtle” mini baklava cups; the spanakopita recipe includes roasted vegetables tossed with spinach and smoked Gouda cheese.

FilloContest

18

04 2014

Savory Strudel

Earlier this month, I entered a strudel recipe in a contest on Phyllo.com, for Athens Phyllo. In checking the site, it appears as though my Butternut Squash and Crab Strudel with Pistachios was one of the winners!

To see the recipe, visit their site at: http://phyllo.com/recipes/butternut-squash-and-crab-strudel-with-pistac/

29

11 2013

These Blueberries Have Met Their Match

The U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council is running a recipe contest that asks bloggers to create recipes pairing blueberries with ingredients that go beyond tried-and-true standards like lemon. The recipe category pairings are: banana, coconut, balsamic, and rosemary. If you want to learn more about the contest, check out the site at littlebluedynamos.com.

I chose to take blueberries on a tropical route–no doubt influenced by the current chilly weather we’re experiencing here in the Northeast. (It’s currently 20 degrees here. A burst of the tropics would not be unwelcome!)

For the ingredient pairing with coconut, I created a Blueberry-Toasted Coconut Upside Down Cake. The cake is buttery and nutty with toasted coconut, and the blueberries are a sweet and jammy counterpart. Lime juice and lime zest brighten the flavors of both the blueberries and the tender cake.

Blueberry-Toasted Coconut Upside Down Cake

1 cup sweetened flaked coconut, divided

2 cups frozen blueberries

1/4 cup sugar

2 tablespoons flour

2 tablespoons lime juice

1 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup sugar

2 large eggs

1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled

2 teaspoons finely grated lime zest

Method:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Thoroughly grease an 8 x 8 square pan (or coat with cooking spray). For easiest release, you may also line the bottom with parchment paper that overhangs on two sides, and grease or spray the parchment also. Set the prepared pan aside.

On a shallow baking sheet, spread the coconut in one layer and toast in the oven, stirring frequently, for about 5-8 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from oven and measure off 1/3 cup of the toasted coconut and set it aside to top the finished cake.

In a large bowl, combine the 1/4 cup sugar with 2 tablespoons of flour. Toss with the frozen blueberries and then distribute the blueberry mixture evenly in the prepared pan, and then sprinkle the 2 tablespoons of lime juice over the top of the blueberries.

In a small bowl, combine the 1 cup of flour, baking powder, and salt. In another bowl, whisk the two eggs with the 1/2 cup of sugar, and add half of the dry mixture and half of the melted and cooled butter, then the remaining portion of each. Fold in the two teaspoons of lime zest and the 2/3 cup of toasted coconut.

Evenly dollop the batter over the frozen blueberries, and then level the batter (an offset spatula works well here).  Bake in the center of a 350 degree oven for 50 to 55 minutes. The cake will be golden brown and firm, and a toothpick inserted into the cake will not have any crumbs on it when tested.

Remove from oven and allow to cool for 20-30 minutes to allow the blueberry juices to thicken a bit. Place a plate over the top and then invert, using the parchment paper to release the cake from the pan. Remove and discard the parchment paper, and then distribute the reserved 1/3 cup of toasted coconut over the top of the cake.

Serve warm or at room temperature–with or without a small scoop of vanilla ice cream.

29

11 2013

On Reading

I love to read, and read often. I belong to a book club, and read on my own too. I read often enough that I’ve decided to start keeping track of what I’ve read here–hopefully that will encourage me to write more on this blog!

Since January 1, I’ve read:

  • A Girl Named Zippy (book club selection)
  • Tinkers
  • Peyton Place (book club selection)
  • The Tiger’s Wife
  • Winter’s Bone
  • A Big Little Life
  • Out of Africa (book club selection–currently reading)
  • Cutting for Stone (just picked up)

I’m still slugging away at Snow, by Orhan Pamuk. Not sure why I’m having trouble with it, the premise and story are good.

The Tiger’s Wife was excellent, it’s hard to believe the author, Tea Obreht, is only 26 years old. Winter’s Bone was also good, and a stark reminder of what the Ozarks portion of Missouri has dealt with for years–namely, an enormous problem dealing with meth producers and meth labs. When I lived in Missouri, the state was the second largest meth producer in the country, just behind California. The state had a horrible time trying to clean up the hazardous waste left behind. Awful, awful problem.

Tinkers was good but quite dense, it’s not an easy read by any stretch of the imagination.

A Big Little Life was sweet, but I had to put it down a number of times, the comparisons to Ralph were quite strong. I do miss that dog tremendously. Last year I went on a books about dogs reading binge, and read:

  • The Art of Racing in the Rain
  • Dog Man: An uncommon life on a faraway mountain
  • The Story of Edgar Sawtelle
  • Merle’s Door

Merle’s Door was a wonderful book, and I recommend it highly. I so wanted to let Ralph go on his own schedule, going the palliative care route that Ted Kerasote took for Merle, but Ralph clearly was in pain and would have suffered had I stayed with that thought.

26

03 2011

It’s that time of year…

Saying goodbye is never easy.

You know, no matter how well you prepare for it, no matter the inevitability, losing a cherished pet is hard. Ralph has been declining significantly recently, and now isn’t really eating. So, the end is near.

Which stinks. You know when you get a pet that more likely than not, you will outlive them. When you adopt a pet–especially an adult dog–you know that there’s a chance that the age range they gave you might not be accurate. This is likely the case with Ralph. His age was estimated at “3 or 4 years” when adopted in August of 2003. When he went in for some ultrasounds around two years ago, the vet looked at his kidneys and said, “this dog is at least 10, probably 11.” So, in the space of a 30 minute vet appointment, Ralph lost two years of life expectancy. We now think he’s around 13, which for a large dog is quite old.

That doesn’t make any of this any easier.

Right now, he’s resting in the sunbeam in the dining room. He still looks fantastic, with a beautiful shiny coat. He is such a sweet dog–it’s the one thing people say repeatedly. “He seems so sweet.” He is. Sweet, and gentle. Good with other dogs, cats, kids. Halloween used to be his favorite holiday, as there were always kids at the door who wanted to pet him.

Shortly after I moved to New Hampshire (three weeks after arriving), my ex informed me he no longer wanted to be married. Due to residency requirements, we couldn’t file for divorce until living here for a year, and yes, that year was about as fun as you could imagine.

Ralph got me through it. He was happy to see me when I came home from work, in this place I had just moved where I knew no one, had no friends around and no family close. He has been a friend.

So often when we adopt dogs, we think we are rescuing them, when in fact they rescue us.

Ralph, I will miss you profoundly. You have been all a girl could have hoped for in a dog and more. You are deeply loved, and I hope that I have done right by you.

30

10 2010

Ralph.

Oh, this dog.

The funny thing is that *I* wasn’t the one who wanted a dog. I acquiesced because I thought we (me and The Ex) could adopt a puppy that was on the smaller/medium size whom we could train (ha!) to live well with the cat I’d had for nearly 10 years, named Elle. After doing some searches on Pet Finder, we drove to Seneca, Illinois, to see what was listed as a Chocolate Lab/Golden Retriever mix named James–Bartles, we were told, had already been adopted. A Chocolate Lab is not the right dog for me, especially a puppy, as he was a bundle of quivering canine energy who jumped (a lot) and would need training (also, a lot). After several more rounds of puppies, all of whom were excitable and several which peed on me, the director of the shelter said, “I think I have a dog you should meet.”

She came back in the room with a fairly large dog, clearly a Shepherd mix. He came into the room, looked at us, and walked over to me and sat down on my right side, leaned into my leg, and looked up at me with large brown eyes.

Done. I was toast, and the director knew it–she said, “they always know.”

After walking Ralph through the cat room at the shelter to see how he would respond to cats–which he passed with flying colors–we paid the fee and loaded Ralph into the back seat of what was then a new Honda Accord. This was early August–I believe August 4th or 5th–2003. On the drive home, Ralph threw up three times. Clearly, not a car dog!

After a few rocky starts (marking in the house, eating the cat’s food, etc.) Ralph soon calmed down and became accustomed to the pace. While the request to get a dog was not mine, it was very quickly apparent that Ralph was my dog. And despite my irritation at the in-home marking, I quickly fell in love with this dog.

And who wouldn’t? Ralph is, and has always been, gentle and sweet. All he’s ever wanted to do was please.

Now, as it’s becoming obvious he won’t be with me for much longer, I’ve been spending a lot of time reflecting on the seven short years we’ve shared.

He used to bark and chase after UPS trucks. Not Fed-Ex, not USPS, just UPS. Once, in the middle of winter in Chicago, I started out with him for a walk. He heard the truck going by, I lost my footing, and all I could do was hold on to the leash–Ralph had picked up enough speed that he dragged me OVER a snow-covered bush, launching me as if off a ramp, and pulled me halfway across the lawn before stopping.

He was, for a while, a stress-chewer. He chewed up several blankets and dog beds, stopping only when I got home. Some were not recognizable as dog beds by the end of the day–thank goodness Costco was selling them pretty cheaply.

He did not like to be left alone. Left in the backyard, he would attempt to tunnel out–and boy, could those paws move dirt. Once, when secluded in the mud room while I painted in the basement, he had what could only be described as a temper tantrum. He chewed up an entire box (including the box) of Scooby snacks, tore up the lid to a wastebasket, and peed on the drier–all because he could hear I was in the basement and he couldn’t get to me.

Ralph was an enormous source of comfort for me, and was my best buddy and companion for a while. The Ex-H traveled every week, and I had Ralph to keep me company. When the ex ultimately walked out, deciding he didn’t want to be married anymore, Ralph helped me keep it together. I don’t know what I would have done without Ralph–I’d just moved to New Hampshire (I’d been here around 3 weeks), I had no friends in the area, and my family was on the other side of the country in Arizona. I had a brand-new job that it was now imperative that I keep. Scary times, but right there, was Ralph.

Ralph settled right in when we moved in with AP (then boyfriend, now husband). He immediately understood the household order, and slept on the floor, right next to AP’s side of the bed. AP works primarily from home, and I will be forever grateful as I think the multiple daily walks and companionship have lengthened Ralph’s life considerably.

Ralph is fading fast. It’s breaking my heart, but I realize that this time had to come at some point. Such a sweet dog. One in a million. I’ll be forever glad he chose me.

Ralph, I’m lucky to have known you. You’ve made me a better, more patient, and more understanding person.

I love you.

25

07 2010

Why I don’t blog very often.

Yes, I admit it. I neglect this blog, big time. But in my defense:

  1. I spend pretty much all day, every work day, reading blogs, writing blog posts for my employer’s blog, editing blog posts for our online news magazine, and so on. I’m fairly well tapped out on the creative front by the time I get home, and usually the last thing I want to do is spend more time in front of a computer. So, I…
  2. Read! I love to read, and I devour books. I’m in a book club, so there’s always the book club book to read, plus anything else that is appealing to me. I spend a lot of time reading, mostly fiction, but some non-fiction and cookbooks thrown in there too.
  3. I also love to cook and bake. It’s fun and relaxing for me, and coming up with new recipes is a challenge. Plus, I always like to see if there’s something I can do at home instead of purchasing it at the store–I don’t think we’ve purchased bread in this house regularly since last summer.
  4. I’ve written a bit about Ralph–he’s a great dog, and I adore him. He is getting older–what we thought several months ago was degenerative myelopathy turned out to be two ruptured discs in his back, plus some degenerating cells in his brain. April was a full month for poor Ralph–first, MRIs and x-rays at the very awesome Tufts Cummings Foster Hospital for Small Animals, then “bed rest” for a dog that is still pretty active. He’s doing better, but honestly, I would rather spend time with him than blog.

So, a few reasons why I don’t post very often. But, I am going to try and be better, as I think the discipline of writing on a consistent basis is good for me. I have no plans for any true theme for this blog. There are way too many foodie blogs out there already. So for the time being, it’s just going to be me rambling when I have a thought. Or two.

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19

05 2010

Ralph with Santa

Ralph the Wonder Dog went to visit Santa today at the Animal Rescue League of New Hampshire.

Ralph with Santa Salls

Ralph with Santa Salls

I know I’ve said it before, but this is one of the best dogs ever. Ralph is a gentle and sweet dog, and such a great companion. We learned this week that he may have the early stages of degenerative myelopathy, a neurological disease that German Shepherds are predisposed to. We’re taking steps to delay the onset of symptoms, including diet and exercise. Hopefully we can keep him as healthy and mobile as possible for a while.

He is an amazing dog, I’m so lucky he picked me.

05

12 2009

Cheese, please…

In the latest chapter of the “just to see if I can” series of home cooking experiments, I attempted homemade cheese.

It’s very, very simple, and I made a fairly dry ricotta cheese–it actually reminded me more of a queso fresco than ricotta, but I think that’s because I let the curds go a little longer and squeezed it while draining the whey off…

Homemade ricotta.

Homemade ricotta.

All you really need to do is heat whole milk, a bit of cream, and salt, then add a couple of tablespoons of vinegar. Stir, allow curds to form, then strain into cheesecloth in a strainer.

Close up of strained cheese...

Close up of strained cheese...

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02

12 2009